This post may contain affiliate links. Buying something through these links doesn't cost you anything and helps support Know Prepare Survive. For some light reading, check out our affiliate disclosure.
Today, more than ever, people are learning the importance of keeping their hands clean.
Soap and water are what you should use whenever possible.
But you won’t always have soap and water with you when you’re lost in the woods or, even worse, at a crowded shopping mall.
Hand sanitizer covers this gap when you can’t get to a sink.
But panic hoarders have already hit the shelves and every bottle of hand sanitizer seems to be in somebody’s basement!
Sure, you probably already have some hand sanitizer stored in your bugout bag.
But you probably don’t have enough for several months.
What are you supposed to do?
Did you know that you can make your own hand sanitizer?
How Does Hand Sanitizer Work?
Hand sanitizers use an ingredient that kills bacteria and viruses on your hands that’s mixed with some other ingredients to keep it stable and to help that active ingredient stay on your hands long enough to work properly.
Most of the time, this active ingredient is denatured isopropyl alcohol (denatured just means “modified be bad for you so you don’t drink it”).
Alcohol is a solvent.
That means that certain other molecules will fall apart and join the alcohol, much like salt dissolving in water.
Most bacteria and viruses are made of parts that can dissolve in alcohol, so hand sanitizers work by tearing apart the germ at the molecular level.
In more technical terms, alcohol dissolves cell walls and denatures proteins.
Alcohol is effective against coronaviruses such as COVID-19, as well as other viruses including HIV.
Alcohol isn’t effective against the rabies virus, though, nor can it penetrate fungal spores.
Hand sanitizers also contain ingredients such as glycerin that hold the alcohol in a gel form.
That’s because alcohol tries to dissolve your skin cells, too.
Glycerin and other humectants and moisturizers help protect your skin (but not the virus cells) from the damage caused by alcohol.
Is Hand Sanitizer Better Than Soap?
There’s this idea that hand sanitizers kill viruses while soap just washes them off of your hands.
If that were the case, hand sanitizer would be better than soap.
But it’s not true.
Soap is more effective than sanitizers at killing most viruses, especially COVID-19!
You see, a virus is generally composed of three parts:
- RNA (the genetic information)
Lipids are fatty acids.
For viruses, these fatty acids form a membrane holding everything together.
Soap dissolves fatty acid membranes. It’s how they “cut through grease.”
The alcohol in hand sanitizers also physically destroys virus molecules but soap is more effective.
That said, you can’t always lather up and rinse your hands off. This is why hand sanitizers are so important.
Can You Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer?
The FDA even has a publicly-available set of guidelines for how to make FDA-approved hand sanitizer.
It’s aimed at pharmacies, so not everyone will be able to follow the FDA’s recipe.
That’s fine, because you can make something that’s almost as good at home without special equipment.
And, by the way, ethanol or isopropyl alcohol doesn’t matter.
Your hand sanitizer doesn’t need to be made from denatured alcohol. Ethanol, drinking alcohol, is just as effective…
…as long as it’s strong enough!
How to Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer
So, here’s the most important part of making your own hand sanitizer:
It has to contain at least 60% alcohol.
More is not always better, but any hand sanitizer, DIY or not, needs to contain 60% or more alcohol to be effective.
70% is better, but there are diminishing returns once you go higher.
90% or more is less effective because the alcohol will evaporate too quickly and because the water helps the alcohol get into cell walls.
That means that you can’t use vodka, whisky, gin, or most other boozes. 40% alcohol might work to sanitize your hands but might isn’t good enough.
So, your choices are basically high-strength alcohols like absinthe or Everclear (which you might have already for, ah, dental care innawoods), or rubbing alcohol. Cask strength whisk(e)y might be strong enough.
You have two choices for DIY hand sanitizer:
Gels are more effective because the alcohol evaporates less quickly. However, they are harder to make.
How to Make Your Own DIY Hand Sanitizer Gel
A DIY hand sanitizer gel needs to end up at 60% to 70% alcohol, which means you need to start with a 90%, 91%, 95%, or even 99% rubbing alcohol or a 189 or 190 proof drink such as Everclear.
The strong stuff.
- Two parts 90%+ alcohol
- One part aloe vera gel
- Essential oils (if desired)
- Empty squeeze or pump container
- Combine the alcohol and aloe vera and mix well
- Add several drops of essential oils if you want to (up to 2% of the total volume), and mix well
This ratio of 90%+ alcohol to aloe vera keeps the alcohol content high enough while the aloe vera gel keeps the alcohol from destroying your hands.
Any skin-safe essential oils can be added to the mixture, if you want. Keep them diluted to 2% strength or less, though.
They won’t do much for the sanitation but can make the homemade hand sanitizer smell better.
And some, such as chamomile, can help soothe your skin.
When using this hand sanitizer, make sure to coat your entire hand and rub until dry.
How to Make Hand Sanitizer Gel without Aloe Vera
Not everyone can use or get their hands on aloe vera gel.
If that’s the case then substitute the aloe vera with glycerin and purified water.
In this case, you want the hand sanitizer to be six parts alcohol, one part glycerin, and one part water.
How to Make a DIY Hand Sanitizer Spray
- Glycerin – 1/8 tsp per ounce of alcohol
- Essential oils (if desired) – 1/16 tsp per ounce of alcohol
- Spray bottle
- Pour all of the ingredients into the spray bottle
- Shake well before spraying
You can use a weaker alcohol for a spray hand sanitizer than a gel hand sanitizer because the end result is less diluted but you still want to keep the alcohol content above 60%.
Shake well and spray liberally onto both hands then rub them until dry. Make sure to get under the nails!
You can ignore the glycerin and oils if necessary, but expect your hands to dry out quickly.
Why You Shouldn’t Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer
So, now that you know how to make a hand sanitizer, why should you avoid doing so?
Because you should be washing your hands with soap and water, instead.
Hand sanitizer is not a substitute for proper handwashing.
It’s merely a stopgap measure to cut down on your chances of transmitting germs until you can get to a sink to wash your damn hands!
What Can I Use Instead of Hand Sanitizer?
Soap and water.
Sorry, does it seem like I’m harping on that point?
That’s because washing your hands is the most effective way of cleaning bacteria and viruses off of your hands.
However, if you need to, you can pour straight-up alcohol onto your hands.
You’ll dry out your hands.
But, if that’s what you have to do, that’s better than spreading nasty germs.
Hand sanitizers are for when you can’t wash your hands but still need to clean them.
Both a store-bought and a homemade hand sanitizer, when made properly, will take advantage of alcohol’s solvent properties to tear apart virus cells and turn them from an infectious agent into tiny shreds of RNA, protein, and fatty membranes.
Keep you, your family, and your community safe by following the best practices and washing your hands whenever possible and sanitizing your hands with 60% or 70% alcohol hand sanitizer the rest of the time!
Is There a Natural Hand Sanitizer?
There are natural hand sanitizers.
Some plant oils (such as peppermint) have antiviral properties, and they can be used to create natural hand sanitizers.
But they aren’t as effective as alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Stick to alcohol for making your own, unless you can’t get any alcohol.
In which case, you can make an essential-oil-based hand sanitizer, but keep in mind that you’re using a less effective product!
How Long Does Hand Sanitizer Last (Does It Expire?)
Alcohol will eventually evaporate from homemade hand sanitizer.
Some people have claimed that it can stay effective for up to six months, but as with any DIY product, there’s no established expiration date.
I’d recommend to make small batches as needed rather than blending up a whole bunch of hand sanitizer at once.
Is Alcohol Free Hand Sanitizer Effective?
There are plenty of recipes online for hand sanitizers using aloe vera gel or glycerin and essential oils, without alcohol.
Some essential oils are effective against bacteria, sure.
But, in order for them to be effective against viruses, they have to be at such a concentration to destroy your skin or cause toxic effects.
Stick to alcohol for sanitizing against viruses.
There are also commercial alcohol-free hand sanitizers made with Benzalkonium Chloride. They are effective but are not DIY-viable.
Can Hand Sanitizer Kill the Virus?
Yes! Hand sanitizer destroys virus cells.
If you care about technical accuracy then technically hand sanitizers do not kill viruses because viruses are not alive.
The virus cells are still rendered ineffective by hand sanitizer, though.
What Ingredient in Hand Sanitizer Kills Germs?
Both ethanol and isopropyl alcohol dissolve cell walls and cause proteins to denature. This kills both bacterial and viruses.
Why Is 70% Alcohol a Better Disinfectant Than 95% Alcohol?
70% hand alcohol is the most effective alcohol strength because the water helps pull alcohol into the cell walls so the solvent action can work.
The extra water helps keep the alcohol around long enough to work, too; 95% alcohol evaporates too quickly to be maximally effective.